If you do not have a group, we will assume that you have one. However, if you are trying to create a team to solve a particular problem, you must first get a group together.
Okay, you have a team. Now it’s time to start the process. It is simple and logical.
a) Define your problem
b) Determine the outcome you desire from this group problem solving activity
c) Identify the root cause
d) Identify possible solutions
e) Choose the “right” solution
f) Implement the solution
g) Celebrate a job well done!
Step 1. Step a.
This should be a simple task, surely? It should be easy to identify the problem. But is it really? Would they come up with the exact same problem if you asked them all to define it? It’s unlikely. For example, if five people were travelling in a minibus and ran out of petrol, one would likely say that someone forgot to put petrol in, while another would say that they needed to call a taxi. Two would then say that there was no petrol left and the driver would add that the fuel gauge wasn’t working. You need to have a conversation and identify the problem. Then, you should all agree on a single definition.
This is obvious, but people have different opinions. That is why teams are so powerful. These are all valid outcomes, but we must agree on a common goal if we don’t want to fight. You need to have a group discussion, discuss and agree on a solution we all can support, and then put it down. There are two options at this point: the quick fix or the long fix. the ‘quick fix’ is the short-term get-out-of-this-dilemma outcome (eg get to the destination) and the ‘long fix’ is the make-sure-this-doesn’t-happen-again outcome (eg check and fix the fuel gauge AND change the process to a daily top up). You may skip the next step if you’re looking for a quick fix.
Step c. Identify the root cause
Before you can identify the root cause of the problem, you should consider all possible causes. You can’t just fix one problem and then move on to the next. The problem will return and make you look foolish. The following five Ms of cause are Manpower, Machinery Management, Management, Method and Material.
Is there a shortage in skilled labor that has led to this problem? Eg, no one was available for filling up the tank or the driver forgot/forgot to check/fill it up.
Machinery – Is the fuel gauge down, or is there a leak in the fuel tank?
Management is not about management neglect. I didn’t tell anyone to fill the tank. It’s about active management involvement. I was told to stop mucking around and to go and collect the people…NOW!
Method Is there something about how we do things that is contributing to the problem? For example, no one has a responsibility for filling the tank. Or the organisation expects drivers fill the tank at their expense. They claim the tank back and don’t reimburse people for 11 weeks. The driver couldn’t afford the filling of the tank.
Material – Is there a problem with our material, e.g. is the petrol not the right type?
You must understand the political issues that are affecting your team. Some people will blame the management or workers, while others will blame the people who work for them. Others will be afraid that they will be blamed and will support any cause that does not place blame on someone. This is why you should make sure that you read all 5 Ms.
Step d. Identify possible solutions
You will find many possible solutions if you’ve completed Step c fully. Even if Step c is not completed, you might still have several parts to the solution. It is a good idea to write them down as a group or at least share them with the whole team. Discuss each option in detail with everyone to make sure they all understand what they are backing. For example, if we have decided that the quick fix and getting there is what we want, are we going to call for a ride, hail a taxi, or hijack the next car that is passing us?
Step e. Choose the “right” solution
The definition of ‘right’ depends on many factors. It is important to agree upon these. For example, hijacking another vehicle to get to your destination may be the fastest way to freedom but for most people it will lead to life imprisonment. The cost/benefit analysis will also be important, as well as the urgency and importance of the situation. If you were going to be escorting President Trump to the last-minute peace talks, then the importance of the situation is high. However, if you were just stopping for a sandwich, then the urgency and importance of the situation were low. Unless you’re a diabetic, then the need to get a soda with your sandwich becomes more urgent. If necessary, you can prioritize the solutions. If you get the team to consider the cost/benefit, urgency, and then agree on the “right” course of action, it gives people ownership. You also show that you value them.
Step f. Apply the solution
Although you won’t necessarily need the entire team to implement the chosen solution, it is a good idea to do so if you can. It increases ownership and the chances of it succeeding. No matter what, ensure that there is an equitable division of labor. If the solution is to drive the minibus three miles, then don’t let four people drive the bus unless you have a good reason not to.
Step g. Celebrate a job well done
Sharing is part of teamwork. You should thank everyone in the team, even if you want to recognize a specific person’s contributions. In a welcoming way, celebrate in a way that is meaningful and appropriate for all members of the team. Let the appropriate people know how great the team did, so everyone gets kudos.